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Every night when the news comes on, Americans are constantly reminded of the rise in overall crime occurring in our country. The most astounding fact is that most of these crimes being committed are by mere children. They are kids under the age of eighteen whom, for some reason get a rush out of stealing, beating, and even killing other people in their communities. Juvenile crime is one of the most important problems in the United States today.
The facts are out there and they are not good at all. Just knowing the facts is not enough, though. To be able to do something about juvenile crime it is important to know when, why and how the youths started committing crimes. From this, the judiciary system needs to figure what can be done with the juvenile offenders and how much it will cost to do so. If these nearly impossible steps can be taken on, the United States will be able to bring back its most important resource for the future, its youth.
No one will ever be able to tell an exact date of when juvenile crime started because, since the beginning of man, there has always been someone out there to break the rules. Who says there could not have been children doing the same? Throughout all of ancient civilizations and medieval times there have been some kind of rules in place to keep the criminals off of the streets. They were for anyone, including youths, who were caught doing something that was considered against the law. This proves that juvenile crime has been in existence for as long as rules have been made. Yet, juvenile crime has not come to the attention of most people as a major problem since the last thirty years.
It has been during our current thirty year crime wave that we have seen the number of juveniles incarcerated, on probation or parole or in alternative programs like wilderness and boot camps, community based school or work release programs increase to nearly one million under supervision (Abruzzese 1). The most recent statistics for juvenile crime are always two years out of date, which makes it tough to see the results of short-term changes in the system. In a report made last year, the FBI stated between 1965 and 1992 law enforcement agencies reported a 423 percent increase in the number of assaults, robberies, rapes, and homicides by juveniles. It is important to note that the majority of juveniles arrested in America are arrested for property crimes and other less serious offenses-not crimes of violence (Sadler 26). This same report attempts to soften the blow by including that from 1983 to 1992 it only increased by 54 percent. On the surface this seems to indicate an improvement, but in fact the numbers add up to the 150,000 juveniles in public and private facilities and the other 800,000 under some kind of non-incarceration supervision (Abruzzese 2).
Before we get into the deeper problems of juvenile crime, a more precise definition of what exactly juvenile crime is needs to be made. A crime, in its simplest definition, is any specific act prohibited by law for which society has provided a formally sanctioned punishment. This can also include the failure of a person to perform an act specifically required by law. Crimes, whether committed by adults or juveniles, are classified by the seriousness of the offense (Outlook Part I, 2). A felony is the most serious offense, punishable by a sentence to a state institution. Felonies usually include violent crimes, sex offenses, and many types of drug and property violations. A misdemeanor is a less serious offense for which the offender may be sentenced to probation, county detention, a fine, or some combination of the three. Misdemeanors generally include crimes such as assault and battery, petty theft, and public drunkenness. An infraction is the least serious offense and generally is punishable by a fine. Many motor vehicle violations are considered infractions (Outlook Part I, 2).
When it all comes down to it, the one question that needs to be asked is, Why are juveniles committing these crimes? There are many different ways this question can be answered and most of the time it is a combination of several different factors in the youth s life. The path of juvenile crime usually begins with problems within the family. Reports show that most juvenile offenders come from single parent homes with low-income levels. These are both common characteristics of the black community, which explains why African Americans were most disproportionately involved in arrests for violent crimes such as murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (Sickmund 17). Whites made up of about sixty nine percent of the total arrests in 1995, followed by blacks with twenty eight percent, Asians with two percent and Native Americans with one percent. Facts such as these show us why the presence of a good family structure is so important in the lives of children. Without good parenting in a child s life, he or she has a much higher chance to become one of the previously mentioned statistics.
One of the other key reasons why children may turn to a life of crime is merely the people they hang around with. Crime can start at a very young age, as young as third grade, when kids feel the need for attention. Something as simple as stealing a candy bar
from the store can eventually lead a child to possibly stealing someone s car or robbing a house. Peer pressure and need to look cool is a very important thing in young teenagers. Schools are often a breeding ground for juvenile offenders because groups of kids are able to gather and cause trouble. In fact juveniles are most likely to commit violent crimes right after school (Sickmund 26). It is sad to say that many kids involve themselves in illegal acts just to gain approval or show off to a group of people they may call their friends. This is often when the formation of gangs begins. Gangs are one of the most dangerous aspects associated with juvenile crime. When a group of young people gets together for the reason of doing nothing but causing problems it can cause some serious crimes. The number of gangs and the amount of gang activity saw its peak in the middle part of the 1990 s. Juvenile murderers were more likely to act in groups in the nineties (Sickmund 12). When children are born and raised into poverty, they are often taught that life will always be that way for them. It is not a good way to live and many kids just give up their lives to crime because they think that there is no way out of the life they are living.
The current trends for juvenile crime in the United States are staggering, but look promising for the future. After several years of consistent increase in overall juvenile crime, 1995 showed the first year of dramatic decreases in nearly all parts of juvenile crime (Sickmund 18). Experts, on the other hand, are worried that the growth of youth population will make this number increase once again (U.S. News 10) The number of juvenile homicides showed the most promising results as it returned to its 1989 level in 1995 (Sickmund 16). As far as individual states go, New York and Florida had the highest juvenile crime rates in 1995 (Sickmund 22). According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency prevention, today s juvenile doesn t commit more acts of violence than a generation ago, but more juveniles are violent. Guns and juveniles seem to be another one of the main issues with juvenile crime because one in five juveniles said they carried a gun most of the time and juvenile arrests are more likely than adult arrestees to have used a gun in committing a crime (Sickmund 27).
Juvenile crime was getting out of control in the nineties and something needed to be done about it. The drops in juvenile crime for 1995 were due to several programs and a crackdown in 47 states on juvenile crime. With this crackdown, five areas of change emerged as states passed laws to decrease juvenile crime. Changes in jurisdictional authority, sentencing authority, confidentiality, victim s rights and correctional programming all helped to start a decrease in juvenile crime for 1995 (Sickmund 28).
The single most talked about subject connected to juvenile crime is how to reduce it to a more suitable level. There are many different ways juvenile crime is currently being controlled and managed. Recently, in the aftermath of the Columbine High School Massacre, the House of Representatives passed a Juvenile Crime Bill to limit the ease in which juvenile can get their hands on guns (Lazare 57). From the sentencing in the courts to after school programs, almost everything has been tried to help get kids violent kids off of the streets. Former Attorney General William P Barr has some very good ideas as far as the long-term solutions for juvenile crime.
The long-term solution to the problem of juvenile crime falls largely outside of the law enforcement system. It requires strengthening those basic institutions the family, schools, religious institutions, and community groups that are responsible for instilling values and creating law-abiding citizens. From the law enforcement standpoint, however, we
must deal with two groups of juveniles. The ones in the larger group have only one or two brushes with the law and then straighten out as they mature, but the smaller group, the hardened chronic offenders, commit the majority of all violent juvenile crime (Barr 1).
Barr continues to write that a criminal justice system that is too lenient will not convey the message to juveniles that crime does not pay. In contrast, a tough, but fair system can help turn the juvenile around to lead a successful life without crime. One of the key tasks for the juvenile justice system is to point out the chronic offenders and send them through extended periods of incarcerations so they can eventually become useful parts of society (Barr 2). Another one of the key challenges of the juvenile justice system is the changing of behaviors. The life of crime studied by the juvenile offender is learned over a period of several years, so an extended stay in a boot camp or public works program is necessary to change their old ways. A sentence to a boot camp could change a juvenile s attitude toward himself or society, which could prevent the occurrence of future offenses (Barr 2).
There is, of course, the small amount of offenders that need to be tried as adults. For this reason, the ability of the juvenile justice system needs to be increased to keep up with demands. This is a troubling concept for many people to grasp, but the truth is that some juveniles are just a violent, if not more violent, than many adult offenders (Barr 2). These small groups of violent offenders commit a large percentage of all violent crimes. In order to try a juvenile as an adult, the cumbersome process of a discretionary waiver must be completed, but more often than not this painful procedure is critical to ensure continued public safety.
It is a known fact that the United States is spending billions of dollars on juvenile crime prevention and many wonder if all of the money spent is actually helping that much. This debate could go on forever, but the key to preventing juvenile crime begins at the family level. This is where the juvenile can learn right from wrong and where good values are taught to them. This alone would help the taxpayers save enormous amounts of money spent on the delinquency of juveniles.
Although juvenile crime is one of the main problems facing our country today, it seems to be decreasing and going away just like fad. It would be impossible to say that it will go totally away, but eventually we will be able to get a better handle on it. With a lot of hard work and support from families and communities juvenile crime may not be such a huge problem in the new millennium.
1) Sickmund, Melissa, Snyder, Howard N., and Poe-Yamagata, Eileen. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1997 Update on Violence. Pittsburgh. National Center for Juvenile Justice, 1997
2) Jones, Michael A. and Barry Krisberg. Juvenile Crime: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. A.E. Sadler. San Diego, Greenhaven Press, 1997
3) Barr, William P. Recommendations to Strengthen Criminal Justice as it Relates to Juveniles. December 12,1999, www.juvenilejustice.com/wbarr.html
4) Abruzzese, George. Juvenile Crime: Approaching the Millennium. December 12, 1999, www.juvenilejustice.com/millinium.html
5) Juvenile Crime – Outlook for California. December 12, 1999, www.lao.ca.gov/laokktoc.html
6) The News Is Good-For Now . U.S. News & World Report. 13 Jan 1997 v122
7) Lazare, Daniel. Your Constitution is Killing You. Harper s Magazine Oct 1999 v299 il793: 57+
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